When my son was six, he began to wear ties to school. I can’t even remember the first time it happened or why he chose to wear a tie that first day. Had I known how it would evolve I would have written it down, because now, years later, he wears either a dress shirt and tie or full suit and tie every single day.
It has become such a normal part of our lives, I don’t even see it anymore. But others do.
“What’s the occasion?”
“Are you going somewhere special?”
"It’s nice to see a young man who likes to dress well.”
He always happily responds.
“There’s no occasion, I just like to dress nicely.”
“Nothing special, I like ties.”
Other times, as he would walk through a mall or play at the park, I could see the smiles or spot the whispers and pointing.
For the most part, all of the attention he has received has been positive. But once, in Grade 2, he received a different kind of attention.
He went to school in a full suit, complete with cufflinks, carrying a briefcase. During recess that day some older children came over to him. At first they started off only asking why he was wearing a suit but it quickly turned sour. They made mean comments about the way he was dressed and stole his briefcase from him, tossing it back and forth not letting him have it. After trying to grab it back, he was shoved. He ran into the school and hid in a classroom, afraid. Finally, he sought out a teacher and the whole situation was taken care of quickly and appropriately but later that night he asked why the kids acted that way towards him.
I sat down with him and explained how being different could garner positive attention but that same difference could also make him a target for negative attention. My husband and I told him in no uncertain terms that he was free to dress how he wants, when he wants, for whatever reason he wants. We would never interfere unless it was some sort of hazard, like wearing a tie while playing on the monkey bars or wearing a suit when it’s 40 degrees with a humidex warning. He doesn’t need to dress to please anyone else but himself.
But I think what really hit home was when we talked to him about kids he knew who were different, whether it was dressing differently (at the time one of his friends from down the street dressed as Superman every single day) or liking something that wasn’t typical. Then we asked if this affected how he felt about them.
“No, Mom,” he responded, “They’re just my friends.”
For the most part, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the support and positive feedback from the children in his classes. When he was nine, he brought a stuffed animal to school to keep on his desk. My husband and I thought he was going to be teased by the boys in his class but instead, the next day, two other boys also brought in stuffed animals.
We give our son the tools to deal with negative attention (talk directly to the person first, if that doesn’t stop it, go to an adult) and let him know he is free to choose what he wears. We stay neutral, neither encouraging nor discouraging the outfits he chooses—his clothing does not define him.
I think the most important thing to do as a parent is to keep the lines of communication open and provide a judgment-free zone. The talks we have had with our son haven’t been one-time only conversations but ongoing. We are his safe place to land.
As I sat down to write this, I asked him what he does when someone gives him negative attention. His reply was, “I don’t get a lot of negative attention but if I do I just ignore them. It’s not going to stop me from doing what I like.”
We could all learn a thing or two from him.
This is proudly sponsored by our friends at Pfizer Canada.
Created by the Psychology Foundation of Canada in collaboration with Pfizer Canada, Stress Lessons is a free resource designed to help you teach children how to manage stress today, and for the rest of their lives.